Teaching English Abroad with Chantelle Tuffigo

Are you looking for a life-changing experience, one that could also possibly change the lives of others? You might want to consider the TESOL certificate, which is a 12-hour program offered at FSU that provides the experience needed for teaching English abroad, or in the United States to foreign-language speakers at the college level. We asked academic advisor Chantelle Tuffigo to share her teaching experience in Vietnam and to give insight on what it is really like to put your certificate to work.

Her Campus (HC): What is TESOL, and why did you choose that path? 

Chantelle Tuffigo (CT): TESOL stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. I wanted to be in the Peace Corps (PC) pretty much my whole life and I have always loved learning about the world and different cultures. I wanted to do something meaningful, but I’ve always been passionate about the importance of doing your research first. It’s important to make sure you are wanted in the place you’re working/volunteering.

HC: Why did you choose to teach English in Vietnam?

CT: So, unfortunately, you can only join PC if you are a US citizen and my husband is not American. But I wasn’t about to give up on my lifelong dream! I worked really hard to find a similar program that would also accept non-US citizens. We could have done China or Thailand, but there seemed to be a greater need in Vietnam (and I still agree with that assessment in hindsight). I knew plenty of people who had been to China or Thailand, but no one who had ever been to Vietnam. It had never been on my radar until I started looking seriously at our limited options. The program we went with made us TESOL certified through the Australian government. The training was a month long and very intensive with lots of practice teaching at various schools in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). Throughout the whole decision-making process, it was always so important that we were actually qualified to teach and not coasting on, “I speak English,” as our only qualification.

HC: What was teaching abroad like, and what were some of the highs and some of the lows? 

CT: Highs: I learned so much about Vietnam! The culture, the history, everything. I loved being immersed in the culture and how different it was from anything I had ever known. I also loved my job so much. We were at a great school with amazing coworkers and students. I loved when I got a class of students who had never taken an English class before, who knew literally zero words, and getting to see how they had learned so much at the end of a unit. It was very impactful.

Lows: The culture shock was insane. Previous travel was nothing compared to landing in Vietnam. I had researched Vietnam so much, but it just still wasn’t enough. I felt so out of place when I arrived. Plus, being foreign in a city with pretty much no other foreigners can be isolating.

HC: What were some of your favorite experiences during this opportunity?

CT: Some of my favorite memories are with my coworker and friend, Hachi. She would pick me up on her scooter and we would go to the market or she would show me some of her favorite places to eat. It was really meaningful that she would take the time to help me see more of her home and culture. On top of that, just getting to know my students. I kept a journal of some of the hilarious things they would do just so I’d never forget. They were hilarious and talented, and such a positive group of people.

HC: Can you describe your living situation while you were abroad? (Housing, what you ate, etc.) 

CT: Our training program in HCMC provided a hotel as part of our fee, but it was a district of the city where those in our program were the only foreigners around. It wasn’t touristy, so the accommodations were not what many Americans may be used to. Once we got our full-time jobs in Hai Phong, we rented another hotel room long term for about $260 a month. Apartments didn’t really exist in Hai Phong, and there are government limitations on where foreigners can legally live, so we also had to comply with those rules. Plus in a hotel, it was cleaned for us and the owners had a laundry service. It just felt easier.

We didn’t need a kitchen because I literally did not know how to cook anything over there. We had sandwiches or ramen for lunch basically every day and then went out for late dinner after work every night. My favorite foods were bún chả, phở, tofu, and spicy chicken I bought from a random street food vendor. Most meals were between $1 to $3. I also usually had a fresh smoothie every day for about $1. For most meals though, even at places I regularly visited, I didn’t know what I was eating. It was unnerving sometimes, but I got used to almost every meal being a mystery.

HC: What do you think others should know or be prepared for before teaching English abroad? 

CT: First, be prepared for culture shock (see above)! And second, Do your research. Don’t show up in an oversaturated market where you aren’t needed. Understand the impacts of your presence.

HC: Would you recommend this experience to others? 

CT: It’s not for everyone. It’s a long-term commitment. It doesn’t really help the school you’re at if you just want to be there for a month and then leave (most places will make you sign a year contract anyway; if you break it then they deduct the cost of your visas from your paycheck). The consistency, commitment and your ability to improve your teaching over time are extremely important. If you’re ready to be challenged in ways you likely never have been, then teaching abroad is an incredible way to make a difference.

HC: Did you have to learn the language for your job?

CT: I did not have to learn Vietnamese. Although I believe Apollo English, the specific location where I worked, does now require teachers to take Vietnamese lessons. My understanding, however, is that most countries do not need you to learn the language. That way it forces everyone to speak English and improve their skills.

If you want more information on the requirements for this certificate, or if you are ready to apply, find the link here. Just think about what an amazing opportunity this would be after graduating college!

All images courtesy of Chantelle Tuffigo.

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